If you like role-playing games, there's a good chance that you've heard of Call of Cthulhu. It's a
horror role-playing game based on the work of author H.P. Lovecraft. The setting typically used for the game is 1920s New England, which is where most of Lovecraft's stories are set, but the game has sourcebooks for a wide variety of settings and even different styles of play. Call of Cthulhu has been around since the early 1980s, and is one of the oldest and most popular tabletop RPGs still being published, and you should definitely try it out if you're into role-playing games and haven't played it yet. To top that all off--it's actually really easy to get started playing this game with the help of online resources that are available for free. Follow these steps to get started.
1. Download the Free Quickstart PDF from Chaosium
To get a game going, visit the webpage of Chaosium, the publisher of Call of Cthulhu. They offer a free PDF that has an overview of the 7th edition rules and a classic adventure that will get you started. Everything is pretty easy to get through, with a simplified version of the rules laid out to
give you a taste of what to expect if you buy the full rulebook (which only goes for about $30 in PDF format or $55 in hardcover).
2. Get Some Characters for your Players
You'll need to have some friends to play, of course, and they'll need to play characters. Definitely read through the character creation process outlined in the book and try your hand at making some characters. But if you don't have time to make them all, take a look at Dhole's House, which offers a library of pre-generated characters that has a wide variety of options. I've used this for several games that I've run, and it has definitely helped me speed up prep time when running a one-shot game.
3. Take it Up a Notch With Specialized Handouts
The Haunting is a classic Call of Cthulhu adventure, that has been around for decades, and has been played by thousands of gamers. So, thankfully, some folks have gone and made some really nice handouts just for this scenario. The ones in the book are perfectly fine for first timers, since they summarize what the players need to know very concisely, but the ones online have a bit more authenticity if that's what you're looking for. The Miskatonic Debate Club and Literary Society blog has some nice visuals. This Imugr account by Jordan Peralez has some nice ones, too, though there are a few typos to watch out for.
4. Set the Atmosphere for the Session
When you go and play the session, Call of Cthulhu works well as a game run in the "theater of the mind" style of roll-playing. I rarely use miniatures for Call of Cthulhu, but I do use props when I can. The handouts for this scenario are all the props that you will need for The Haunting, but it also might help to have the right atmosphere. I tend to play by candle light, with some light music in the background. Horror film music is great for tense scenes, like the selection found here from the Call of Cthulhu video game. For lighter scenes, some jazz from the 1920s does the job since that's what was popular in the era that the game is set in.
Now for one last step, since I'm writing this during the time of the Covid 19 pandemic--if you're
going to play now, I recommend playing online rather than in-person. Zoom is probably my favorite platform for running Call of Cthulhu. You can have your players light some candles or dim the lights on their end and everyone can share in the atmosphere. For other options for online, play, check out this article. Since many places are going to have a few more weeks of being on lockdown, now is a good time to start this classic game that will bring you a completely different roleplaying experience than what you're used to.